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The Long Journey of Friendship

The Long Journey of Friendship-The history of investment and trade between Norway and Thailand is intrinsically linked to the two countries’ close friendship.The history of investment and trade between Norway and Thailand is intrinsically linked to the two countries’ close friendship.

The visit of H.M. King Rama V to the newly independent Norway in 1907, signalled the beginning of a close relationship between the two Kingdoms that has evolved into a partnership on many fronts. From the visit of H.M. King Rama V in 1907 to the entrance of large firms like Telenor and Aibel into the Kingdom and the growth of tourism on both sides prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the journey together has produced beneficial results for all parties.

Having read about the 1907 journey of H.M. King Rama V in Norway and now seeing its legacy in person, Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia, H.E. Ms Kjersti Rødsmoen, understands the significance of the visit. “It is astonishing to see just how much one person can do and it is an honour for Norway to have played a role in supporting these accomplishments,” Ambassador Rødsmoen says. “As Ambassador and being in Thailand, you see just how significant and influential H.M. King Rama V was and how much his visit to Norway meant to both our countries.”

An example of that is the decision of H.M. King Rama V to send Yara fertiliser, which was known as Norsk Hydro at the time, back to Thailand. Ambassador Rødsmoen believes this not only benefited the Thai agricultural sector but helped lay the groundwork for the Norwegian company’s eventual global expansion. The commercial element is just one aspect of the close friendship. Another is the bond that has developed between the Royal Families over the years. H.R.H. Crown Prince Haakon Magnus attended the Royal Cremation Ceremony of H.M. King Rama IX. Meanwhile, Thanpuying Sirikitiya Jensen, the great, great-granddaughter of H.M. King Rama V, followed in his footsteps during a recent visit to Norway.

The path between the two countries was becoming increasingly traversed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the desire of those in Norway wanting to visit Thailand’s tropical hangouts is hardly breaking news, the inclination of Thais to head in the opposite direction during the autumn and winter months may come as a bit of a surprise. The number of Thai people wanting to travel to Norway was at an all-time high before the pandemic. It is seen as a modern place for Thais to visit,” Ambassador Rødsmoen states.

“They want to travel during the fall and winter which is usually the slow time for tourism in Norway. But for them, this is the most exciting time to visit, and it reminds us Norwegians to appreciate this time of year in spite of its darkness and cold crisp weather.” The economic impact of tourism halting has been felt on both sides but there are some signs of life. The Ambassador noted the Embassy is seeing an increase in visa applications from Thais wanting to visit Norway while Norwegians have begun returning to Thailand since quarantine-free travel was introduced.

A Good Fit

Norwegian businesses and their Thai counterparts have unique ways of operating. Yet, it doesn’t negatively affect the relationship. If anything, each side has an appreciation for what the other brings to the table. “We see a good fit between the two cultures. I think the Thai business community appreciates the reliability and straightforward approach of Norwegian firms,” Ambassador Rødsmoen points out. “We have influential products and well-known companies who have been operating in Thailand for quite some time. Each company has its own story here and many of them have a long story. This stability helps set us apart.” She adds Thailand is well organised and there is a structure in place that makes Norwegian businesses feel comfortable. Even during COVID-19, trade and investment between the pair has remained steady with some areas, such as salmon exports, witnessing unprecedented growth.

The good fit between the two countries will be important as Thailand looks to fight climate change. As green industries leaders, Norway can be a trusted partner in these transition efforts. “We are very strong in oil and gas, the blue economy, and shipping among other sectors. A lot of the things we are doing, we can do together with Thailand,” Ambassador Rødsmoen says. “We are seeing the business community in Thailand also pushing the government in a positive way. They see a need to move forward.”

At the COP26 Climate Change Conference, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha promised to increase electric vehicle adoption, plant more trees and introduce other measures to meet carbon neutrality and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions targets. “We are very happy with the signals we have received from the Thai government when it comes to sustainability. They see the need to be a part of this change and we stand ready to cooperate in these efforts,” Ambassador Rødsmoen reports. “There are areas, such as renewable energy and electric vehicles, where we have a great deal of knowledge to offer. Our goal in Norway is that all new private vehicles be electric by 2025. And if we Norwegians are able to establish manage charging stations in remote mountain crossings during our dark winters, anyone should be able to do it.”

An understanding between the two governments along with strong private sector relationships has created optimism that an even more ambitious sustainability initiative, like a carbon capture and storage system, could be rolled out. “Hopefully, Thai industries see what can be done and join in, whether it comes to green technologies or something more complex like a carbon capture and storage system,” Ambassador Rødsmoen details.

“We have made a lot of progress and gained a lot of knowledge which we are happy to share. This can cover sustainability initiatives across other sectors, including cement, waste management, and recycling, as well.” According to the Ambassador, the good fit between Norway and Thailand can ensure work on sustainability efforts begins quickly once an agreement is reached. And while there may be some concerns regarding the initial costs, she urges Thai industries to factor in the trust they have with Norwegian firms and the reliability they provide before making any decisions.

Next Steps

When it comes to investment and trade, the journey Norway and Thailand has taken to become partners should now move to the next level in the form of an EFTA free-trade agreement. “Trade between our countries has been steadily increasing over the years, but a free-trade agreement is an important part of moving this forward and creating stronger bonds. It is a signal that shows a willingness to invest,” Ambassador Rødsmoen states. “There is hope we can move ahead on this as it is a building block of a commercial relationship.”

From Norway, the biggest export items are seafood and fertilisers. Norwegian salmon has become one of the most popular items on the menu for many restaurants, while Yara fertilisers helps support Thailand’s fruit and vegetable exports to new heights. Another area of focus is liquified natural gas (LNG). With Norway having developed several innovations in the LNG space and Thailand now looking to transition to cleaner forms of energy, the fit here is easy to see. LNG, though still a fossil fuel, is considered a relatively clean fuel, and a good alternative to more polluting fossil fuels during the transition phase up to the time when renewable sources can become both reliable and competitive. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made it difficult to get this on the agenda.

“LNG is something we want to put on the agenda as this is an area where we have a great deal of expertise in. We had several events planned in both Thailand and elsewhere in ASEAN but we have had to postpone them all,” Ambassador Rødsmoen says. “We are going to try again in 2022 as we know there is interest, especially as Thailand looks towards an energy transition.” Of course, there is much more to friendship between the two countries than business. People have a vital role to play as well. There have even been times when the areas of business and people intersect. An example of this is Norwegian companies who carry over their diversity and inclusion programmes to Thailand, helping raise awareness and set standards in the process.

“Diversity and inclusivity are a priority for all Nordic companies, and we continue to work towards promoting this. I think a lot of positive things are taking place in this area, but more work is needed,” Ambassador Rødsmoen notes. “It is nice to see Norwegian, and all Nordic companies, lead the way with their policies.” The next step for Ambassador Rødsmoen will be concluding a term which began in August 2018. Her time as Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia will obviously be tied to the COVID-19 pandemic which presented unforeseen challenges and opportunities.

“A lot of interesting things have come from the pandemic. For example, we have learned a lot about how to operate in a crisis. It has given us the chance to be creative,” Ambassador Rødsmoen points out. “On the other hand, we are also missing out on many things. There are the travellers, exchanges and political visits that make .things lively. We have kept this up digitally, but we look very much forwards to welcoming everyone back in person.”

Facts

  • Yara fertiliser was sent from Norway to Thailand by H.M. King Rama V in 1907.
  • The number of Thais travelling to Norway before the pandemic was at an all-time high.
  • Norwegian businesses are ready to assist Thailand as it looks to meet sustainability goals.
  • Norway’s biggest export items are seafood, particularly salmon and fertilisers.
  • Norway-backed LNG events are scheduled for Thailand in 2022 after being delayed by COVID-19.

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